Pope Benedict XVI: “This evening, you caused us to turn our hearts to Mary in prayer, the most beloved prayer of Christian tradition. Yet you also led us back to the beginning of our journey of faith, to the liturgy of Baptism, the moment in which we became Christian.
By F. K. Bartels
1 September 2011
On Tuesday evening Pope Benedict XVI attended a concert in his honor, organized by Cardinal Domenico Bartolucci, the former director of the Choir of Sistine Chapel. The event was held in the internal courtyard of the Apostolic Palace at Castelgandolfo, and included four pieces composed by Cardinal Bartolucci himself: the poem “Benedictus,” which was written for the concert; the “Ave Maria”; the sacred poem “Baptisma”; and “Christus circumdedit me.”
At the conclusion of the concert, our Holy Father briefly commented on the “special language” of music: “For you,” he said to Cardinal Bartolucci, “music is a special language with which to communicate the faith of the Church and to help those who hear your works along their own journey of faith.”
Then the Pope briefly reflected on the prayerful journey that the evening’s music imparted on the human spirit of those who listened to its wonderful melodies and lyrics: “This evening, you caused us to turn our hearts to Mary in prayer, the most beloved prayer of Christian tradition. Yet you also led us back to the beginning of our journey of faith, to the liturgy of Baptism, the moment in which we became Christian: an invitation always to drink from the only water that can quench our thirst—the living God—and to commit ourselves day after day to rejecting evil and to renewing our faith with the affirmation ‘I believe’” (Benedict XVI qtd. from Vatican Information Service).
As is always the case, within this one brief statement from our Holy Father is contained a wealth of important information which is relevant to all the faithful and even to the entire world. What joy we find in turning our hearts to Mary: the first Christian and the first disciple of Christ who, by her fiat, brought the most wonderful and sacred gift humanity will ever know into the world: the Person of Jesus Christ. Sweet Mary, yet but a young woman, gave herself over entirely to the will of the Father, thus uniting herself forever and inseparably to his merciful and loving plan of salvation.
The Virgin Mary, who goes before us in the order of grace, did not simply say “yes” to the Father as if to say, “I agree.” Rather, in selfless abandonment and trust, she committed herself entirely to the will of God. Although she would suffer the sword of sorrow, watch her Son be brutally scourged and crucified, she continued to remain at his side in unwavering trust and hope. She persisted, each moment, in her union to God’s plan, responding to his grace and love as it unfolded before her in the present with an ongoing and eternal “yes.”
Salvation: We, Too, Live To Say “Yes”
There is a very important message for Catholics and other Christians in that aspect of the Virgin Mary’s life which is an unceasing response to God’s grace. Her “yes,” given without reserve and in an act of total adoration and love, serves to remind us of our own purpose. We, too, live to say, “yes” with our entire being. And not only for now or tomorrow, but forever.
Mary drank abundantly from “the only water that can quench our thirst—the living God.” Conceived without sin and infused with supernatural grace, Mary, the Mother of God and our spiritual Mother, provides us with the paradigm of holiness and virtue par excellence. And what does she tell us? At the wedding feast of Cana, she gives her children this everlasting message: “Do whatever he tells you” (John 2:5). Those are Mary’s last words in the entire New Testament.
There are perhaps few Catholics and other Christians who have not asked themselves this question: “How do I follow God’s will and get to heaven?” At Cana, Mary gives us the answer. Yet, even so, how do we follow her words? That is, how do we know what Christ is telling us to do? How do we know God’s will for us, right now today and on into tomorrow?
The Catholic Church: Voice of Christ
While there is a plethora of books which might be entitled Spirituality for Today or Finding Your Spiritual Path, while there is no shortage of people who insist that they are “spiritual but not religious” or “Christian but unaffiliated,” there is indeed a sure and simple answer to this question of how we listen to Christ. And it is not a subjective answer, but rather an objective one based on our Lord’s own words, in harmony with Scripture and history and reason.
Our Lord Jesus Christ did not come into the world and say, “Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice,” (John 18:37), only to die on the Roman cross, be resurrected and ascend into heaven, and leave us here without the ability to listen to his voice. We can be sure Jesus not only foresaw our future needs, but provided for them abundantly: from his pierced side on the cross, God Incarnate poured out upon the world his sacred blood and water, establishing once and for all—and for all humanity—the Church: Christ’s own cherished Bride. It is here, within mother Church as the one body of the Risen Lord that we listen to our Savior.
This is perhaps most clearly set forth in Matthew’s gospel, in which we read of the authority of the Church as the final arbiter of earthly disputes: those who refuse to listen to the Church are to be treated as Gentiles or tax collectors (18:15 ff.). It would be nonsense to imagine that our Lord would say something of that sort of a church which is but only an abstract concept, represented and contained merely in the idea of a people who agree to hold to similar beliefs. It is very clear here, and in other places in the New Testament, that the Church is a definite and specific institution founded by God himself. Moreover, the evidence of history in this regard is irrefutable.
How do we listen to Christ? How do we attain our eternal beatitude? While these seem to be highly complex questions, they are perceived so only due to the widespread spiritual and religious confusion which continues to sweep across the modern world. If we desire eternal life and unending, supernaturally infused joy and bliss in the presence of our Lord, we must listen to his Bride: the one, holy Catholic and apostolic Church, who, as minister of salvation, carries us in her arms across the uncertain and occasionally violent seas of life. It is through the Church, the gateway to salvation, that we hear the words of truth and receive the sacraments of life.
Pope Benedict said that we are “to commit ourselves day after day to rejecting evil and to renewing our faith with the affirmation ‘I believe.’” When we come to the feet of our Lord Jesus Christ in prayer, when we say to him “I believe,” we must also at the same time affirm that we believe the Church for which he gave his life. And that is precisely the reality of the situation: The Catholic Church gained her life at the cost of our Savior’s death on the cross.
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Deacon Frederick Bartels is a member of the Catholic clergy who serves the Church in the diocese of Pueblo. He holds an MA in Theology and Educational Ministry and is a Catholic educator, public speaker, and evangelist who strives to infuse culture with the saving principles of the gospel. For more, visit YouTube, iTunes and Google Play.